The mood was buoyant and not just because the cold snap had boosted sales of batteries, springs and just about any other part that gives up when the north wind blows.
In fact, the conference, held for the first time in the same venue at the MK Bowl as the Federation’s annual dinner, was upbeat. After a tricky few years, it seems that parts supply and sales seem to be more or less back on track.
Opened by Chief Exec Mark Field, he noted that it was time that the aftermarket supply and distribution business ‘step out of the shadows’ and have a greater engagement with the workshops and customers that buy and fit the parts.
Field also confirmed that Arnold clark Autoparts’ Craig McCracken would take over from WAI’s Richard Welland as President for the next two years, starting in January.
Following Field’s introduction, the first speaker on stage was Neil Pattemore, technical director of UK AFCAR who posed the question: Who controls the aftermarket?
The answer, somewhat depressingly, is the VMs according to Pattemore as while most will offer a solution of sorts for remote diagnostics (where technicians can view data stored on the VM’s server, rather than on the vehicle itself), there is nothing regulating what the car makers can charge third parties to view it, and this is unlikely to change until organisations such as AFCAR pressure the powers that be in Brussels to make changes – and this won’t automatically guarantee that it will become part of UK law either.
Following Pattemore, the next speaker on stage was Matt Cleevely, a well-known technician in the independent trade, who specialises in EVs at his workshop in Cheltenham. Cleeveley’s presentation segued from Pattemore in that he explained that VMs charged through the nose for independent garages to access with Tesla being singled out as it charges well into three figures for access to an individual vehicle’s systems, plus special tools and cables are needed to get into the cars.
Cleevely also made the point that even basic steering and suspension parts for EVs are not commonly available over the counter at any of his local motor factor branches, which has led him to stock a mezzanine with around £67k of parts imported from a supplier in Denmark. Other parts, such as the main boards for voltage regulators are not available from any source, and options such as micro soldering failed components has to be considered if a repair solution is to be found.
However, Cleevely made the point that despite the challenges presented by maintaining electric vehicles, learning to repair them has been well worth doing. In his workshop EV and hybrid work now exceeds the declining number of diesels coming in and, apart from being a new revenue source, he is personally very keen on the clean-running and torquey vehicles.
Robin Horsfall, the (slightly terrifying) former-SAS soldier turned author, provided the keynote speech at midday. He spoke about what true leadership meant to him, and spoke about his years in the army where he participated in the successful operation to combat terrorists in the 1980 Iranian embassy siege. He also explained his decision to buy out of the army before opening a (short lived) overseas hospital and founding a martial arts academy here in the UK.
After lunch, the conference continued with economist Vicky Pryce bamboozling the audience with numerous graphs showing the perilous state of the world’s (and the UK in particular) economy.
On a slightly more positive note in regards to the finances of the aftermarket, GIPA’s Quentin LeHetet spoke on the subject of future prosperity, and what the data suggested were growth areas. Unsurprisingly, the future lies in EVs, but there is still plenty of life in the existing market as the parc age increases, and all of the above need steering and suspension parts, particularly on days like the one of the conference where the mercury never rose out of the negative numbers.
Rounding off the event, Julia Muir of an organisation called the Automotive 30 Percent Club took to the stage to explain why it was important to be wary of some ‘unconscious bias’ when reviewing job applications. She explained that some CVs were sent to automotive companies, which were identical bar the names. One application got multiple interview offers, while the other got none. It will come as no surprise that one CV had a male-sounding name, and the other female – and I don’t think we need to say which one got the calls…
Overall, the delegates all agreed that the variety of speakers and subjects had been the most varied that the conference had booked for many years. Most that we spoke with were keen to return to the event next year.